October 18th 2005
The need to protect climate is more and more often used as an argument for nuclear power. In one European country, Finland, this argument was successfully used by the nuclear lobby, the Parliament ratified in May 2002 the permission to build the 5th nuclear power station. It might be worthwhile to know how this decision was prepared and what happened afterwards.
Finland’s nuclear history in a nutshell
Finland built 4 nuclear power stations in the second half of 1970ies and the first half of 1980ies. The first nuclear project was a part of bilateral trade between Finland and Soviet Union agreed between the that time president Kekkonen and the Soviet leadership. At that time Finland exported into Soviet Union mainly industrial products and bought mainly raw materials, as oil. Soviet Union wanted to sell some industrial products, too, and for this the nuclear reactors were taken to a part of this trade.
Soon also another Soviet reactor was ordered. These 2 power station units were built in the island of Hästholmen in the city of Loviisa on the southern coast. Fortunately, these were not “Chernobyl-type” designs but pressurized water reactors.
The Finnish industry leaders did not want to be dependent on Soviet nuclear design only and several big companies formed a joint company TVO (Teollisuuden Voima, Power for the Industry), which ordered 2 nuclear units from the Swedish company Asea Atom. Both of these units are of the boiling water reactor type. These were built in the island Olkiluoto, in the Eurajoki municipality on the west coast.
In the first half of the 1980ies the common thinking in the Finnish energy sector was that many more nuclear reactors are needed. The decision on the 5th nuclear reactor was already in the pipeline in the 1980ies, but the Chernobyl accident in April 1986 stopped this plan. The legislation was changed so that for each new nuclear unit the permission of the Parliament is needed.
The application for the 5th nuclear power station was renewed after the 1991 elections. Most people believed that the Parliament would give the permission. But after a very intensive debate both in the Parliament and in the whole society, the Parliament rejected this permission, in autumn 1993, with 107 no votes out of 200. But the nuclear lobby never accepted this as a final end of the story. And finally, in May 2002 the Parliament gave the permission.
2001: “Nuclear power the cheapest option for Kyoto”
Nuclear power seems to be a wonder remedy for everything, if you believe the arguments of nuclear lobbyists. In the 1980ies it was advocated simply to fill the power thirst of the industry. In the first half of the 1990ies, when Finland was undergoing a very severe recession, nuclear power was the remedy to boost growth and employment. And when Kyoto Protocol saw the daylight in December 1997, nuclear power became the way to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
I was minister for the environment in the second cabinet led by Prime Minister Lipponen. This cabinet was formed after elections in March 1999. It was a coalition of 5 parties, one of them my party, the Greens. One of the first decisions of this cabinet was to prepare a national climate action program, to see how to meet our Kyoto target. The Ministry of Trade and Industry, which is responsible for energy policy was given the task to lead this work, under Ms Mönkäre, the minister. As the minister for environment, I, of course, followed rather closely this work.
The results of this work were published and given to the Parliament as a communication of the government in spring 2001, titled “The National Cimate Srategy”. There were two alternative scenarios. Both met Finland´s Kyoto target for the years 2008-2012 (to keep the emissions on the same level as they were in 1990). There were 3 main elements in the first, non-nuclear option: energy efficiency, domestic renewables and replacing coal with natural gas. In also the nuclear option renewables and energy effiency were promoted, but not as much as in the non-nuclear option, and most of the coal use in electricity production was replaced by nuclear power after the 5th nuclear power station was connected to the grid.
The basic assumptions for the economic calculations more or less favoured the nuclear option. E.g. no technological development leding to cheaper prices of new clean energy technology was assumed. This way the nuclear option seemed slightly, but only very slightly cheaper than the non-noclear option. The difference in the year 2010 was between 0,1-03, % of GDP. Anyone who knows anything about forecasting economy, knows that even the next year cannot be forecasted with this precision, let alone a decade. For an average family this difference meant some tens of euros per year.
Anyway, when the National Climate Strategy was published, the main headlines said that nuclear is the cheapest way to meet our Kyoto target. The ministry of trade and industry presented the results as if there would be costs only in the non nuclear option, not in the nuclear scenario.
One of the several strange details in this work was the following. One of the basic assumptions which made the nuclear option to seem cheaper was that in this option coal burning was not reduced before 2008-2010. Therefore the nuclear option showed to emit more carbon dioxide than the non-nuclear option in the graphs illustrating the forecast for emissions of these two scenarios. So, the nuclear option seemed a little cheaper but also dirtier. The CO2 emission graphs were censored from the version which was published and given to the Parliament.
2002: “Nuclear power the only option for Kyoto”
In January 2002 the Government majority voted in favour of giving the permission for the 5th nuclear power station and proposed this to the Parliament. The Greens and the Left Alliance voted against.
The nuclear lobby had changed argumentation since the previous year. They did not say that nuclear is the cheapest way to meet the Kyoto target, they said nuclear is the only option. Otherwise families would be short of electricity in wintertime when it can be -25 oC or colder, and Finland would become too dependent on natural gas coming from Russia, our traditional enemy.
Several experts heard in the committees of the Parliament showed that the potential for energy efficiency and renewables is far bigger than presented in the National Climate Strategy. Environmental NGOs presented their own Kyoto scenarios based on figures by the ministry for trade and industry, and showed the same, the potential for clean energy technology is far greater than assumed in the National Climate Strategy. But these alternatives were practically absent in the media. Instead
there were lyric descriptions of windmills functioning as guillotines for migrating birds.
In the spring 2002 the tone was: Kyoto, of course, our holy duty, we have to protect our planet and to curb our emissions, and exactly therefore we need the new nuclear power station. The Parliament ratified the Kyoto Protocol unanimously on May 8th. All stakeholders, including industry and trade union representatives gave their green light for Kyoto. This is all documented in the protocols of the Environment Committee of the Parliament.
In May 24th 2002 the Parliament voted and ratified the permission of the 5th nuclear power station, with 107 yes votes out of 200. The Greens decided to leave the government coalition.
“Kyoto – an unfair trap for Finland”
Very soon after the Parliament´s nuclear vote the very same industry leaders and also trade union leaders who had used Kyoto as their main argument for nuclear power, switched their attitude to Kyoto by 180o. Since then, Kyoto has been presented as something which is extremely unfair and even catastrophic for our small, brave and clean country, something that Green environment ministers have negotiated behind the backs of the reast of the Government and the whole society. Still in 2005 this message is in Finnish newspaper almost weekly, the latest 3 days before writing this article.